View Full Version : Shadow Question

11-03-2005, 04:08 PM

Tought I'd introduce myself and ask a question.

Brand new to pastels. Have drawn in pencil for many years. Took a few watercolor classes a while back but for every half way decent thing I produced I made 25 other mud paintings. So I left color for a while and went back to graphite. Last week bought some pastels in hopes I'd have better luck with them than WC-- and so far so good-- I really like them.

Here's my questions... I'm pretty pleased with most everything except my shadows. If I get them dark enough to really read as shadows they tend to go dead. (So far I've been painting in a fairly realist blended style-- I know some people frown on blending a lot but it's the easiest way for me to get started with this medium.)

For example, painting a green leafy houseplant, the shadows cast by some leaves on others tend to die. My leaves look pretty dang nice though ;-) I started out using a much darker tone of the actual leave color then overlaying with some darker blues and a touch of the red complement. Have had better luck when not blending-- but since the rest of the painting is blended it looks out of place to leave the shadows in a totally different style.

I don't have anything worth posting yet but curious for thoughts on handling cast shadows.


Kathryn Wilson
11-03-2005, 05:44 PM
Hi Brad! Welcome to the Pastel Forum - I am glad you are having a good time exploring a new medium and hope to see some work from you when you are ready.

In the meantime, here is a very useful thread on shadows. Since I don't blend, I'm not sure what happens so thought I'd better dig up some information -


K Taylor-Green
11-03-2005, 06:17 PM
Hi Brad! Welcome to the addictive world of pastels!
I'd like to take a look at your leafy, green houseplant. It's easier to make an evaluation. I blend, but I mostly work with animals and people.
I think compliments make more vibrant shadows, blended or not.
Hope to see some samples of your work, soon.

Deborah Secor
11-03-2005, 07:24 PM
Hi Brad. Hate to tell ya this but it might be that the blending is the problem. I can't tell you without seeing what you're discussing, of course, but I've seen it over and over again. When you blend you can pretty easily make your colors look very dead and flat, frozen, not lively and colorful. Layering, however, works differently. Also, if your complement is not almost the exact same value as the leaf color, as you blend, adding oils from your finger, you make mud. My recipe for shadows is: the local color of the thing on which it's cast, darkened, with blue added, but this only works outdoors. Indoors you can have different color casts.

I'd suggest trying some shadows that have a few delicate layers, working from the darkest value up. For instance, on a green leaf in shadow you might use a layer of very dark, cold green--almost black, but not really--to begin. Then lay a deep, dark purple or blue over that, and then choose two other greens, one to match the color of the leaf in sunlight but a darker value (let's say one step lighter than the darkest green you already used) and one that is maybe a step yellower, but still the matching value. So you have
1) dark cold green
2) deep purple or blue
Matching value as much as possible and NOT blending, just layering
3) medium dark green to match the leaf color
4) medium dark yellow-green

As you lay these down let the thickness of the pastel build so that you have a creamy pillow. Let the layers blend over one another. You may have to have some softer pastels to get this to work--and doing it on a sandpaper like Wallis is better than an absorptive, spongy paper or a laid texture, neither of which have enough depth to build up layers.

Hope this makes sense... Show us some work and we can give you more advice!


Kathryn Wilson
11-03-2005, 07:41 PM
Yeah, what she said - :)

11-03-2005, 08:05 PM
Thanks everyone!

From what everyone said and the article that was referred to, I think my head was in the right place approach-wise but my combo of cheap drawing paper (I'll blame my tools!) and overblending ruined what I was after.

When I started this project it was really just to play around with the pastels for the first time. I messed around with the painting and experimented so much it's not worth posting- believe me-- it's full of trials and scribbles and muck along with one or two nice (I think) bits. But it served its purpose-- learned a lot. Will post the first 'serious' thing I start on a better paper-- with luck this weekend.


11-03-2005, 08:31 PM
P.S. I did try a quick layering experiment and it came out far nicer!
If I want to layer a lot throughout an entire work rather than blend-- what do people recommend as a substrate better than pastel paper. Velour? Sandpaper? Canvas? I am not a big fan of letting the paper itself show through-- just a personal taste-- though maybe I could come to like it with more skill.
I've read a ton of books but nothing like getting in person recommendations.
Thanks again,

Deborah Secor
11-03-2005, 09:40 PM
WALLIS SANDPAPER! Sorry, didn't mean to yell, but I cannot tell you how much I love this paper. I have all my new pastel students use it because it is so forgiving... :D Run over to Kitty Wallis's forum (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=137) and request a sample sheet. There's tons of advice in the Pastel Library on how to use it. Just search in there under 'Wallis.'


11-05-2005, 03:06 AM
Brad, you might like to understand the reason why you get "dead" colour when you blend. It might help one or two others who read this, too.

If you mix together red, blue and yellow - all the primary colours on the colour wheel, you get black. effectively, they cancel each other out.

Opposite each primary on the colour wheel, you have its complementary - which you know.
Opposite red, we get green.
So, when we blend together red and green, we are in fact blending red, yellow and blue. And we get black.
Same applies to all the complementary pairs, and to some of the tertiaries too - too much blending, without considering the chemistry, often results in black ... or muddy colour.

If you blend a blue-ish green, with a yellow-ish green, you might well end up with a delicious new green, and it won't be muddy at all.

So the moral is - beware of blending unthinkingly. Consider the colours you are about to blend, and what will happen if you mix them. It is no different to mixing wet paint on a palette. The easiest way to end up with yukky brown, is just to mix willy-nilly!

ps you might find the odd tip inside this article: